by Ron Cook
Life certainly seems to have a cyclical nature to itself … We are born … we live our lives … and we move into our Golden Years. My question, after visiting numerous assisted living homes, as well as contemplating my own existence, is … how do we retain a sense of “joie de vivre” (joy of life) as we move through our later years? How does one stay engaged in life when our physical, mental, and sometimes, emotional capacities begin to recede?
I have had the pleasure of knowing and visiting many Senior citizens in Alexandria, as well as during my visit in Florida, my years in Tejas (Texas), decades in Michigan and my time in Colorado. The baby boomer generation has even evolved a new form of geriatric psychology (or as we like to call it, “Aging Gracefully-ology”).There are some aspects of joy in these visits I would like to pass on for your consideration. Let’s call these visits, As I Recall.
Whenever I ask an elderly Boomer or Great Generationer about their favorite memories, they often begin their description with the words, “as far as I can recall.” I have a theory that this might be a significant clue to aging gracefully …
This theory seems to work based on our capacity to remember. The interesting part of our memory has to do with the use of our senses. The more a memory can be recalled with sensory details, the more clearly it can be enjoyed in the present. It is wonderful to visit with the elderly, and let them recall favorite events from their pasts. Events or conversations in the present can trigger these memories to be enjoyed. Sometimes the past can bring us joys that the present may not contain.
Betty lives at an assisted living home in Alexandria. She became blind late in her life. Visits with her were very tactile and joyous. Her whole countenance lit up with visitors. Once we brought her a freshly baked loaf of bread. As she told a wonderfully detailed story about her father and the farming life, she held the bread, squeezing and smelling the loaf. It was as if memories were coming right out of that loaf of bread as she smiled and told her story! Her face filled with joy as she recalled the events of her past. The sense of smell has been shown to be a wonderful trigger for memory. It cuts right through some of our memory obstacles, and may open the door to other sensory memories.
Well written, relevant books can be another source of great enjoyment and memory triggers. While being read to from a Louie L’amour Western, Betty seemed to gaze back into her family’s horse-raising days. She was held in rapt attention, if my voice was loud enough for her to hear, asking me to continue at the end of each chapter. Even if one of our senses may fail in time, our other senses can answer the call to remember where the fading sense diminishes. She was also able to recall and recount the events of the chapter when asked.
Even though I have lost the ability to run and jump as in my youth, I can still remember the wind in my ears, as I trained for past marathon runs. I can still feel the muscles in my legs straining and propelling me in past football games as a wide receiver. I can still remember the feeling of jumping in huge piles of leaves during these Fall months. I can still remember the smell, taste, and feel of my youth. I can remember these experiences, because I was there.
As we consider what we are thankful for this year, perhaps aging gracefully might be on our list. Are we grateful for the life we have lived, as well as the life we are still presently living? There may be a great treasure trope of life in our memories that can lend flavor to our present experiences. Perhaps a nice combining of our past with our present might make a wonderfully warm memory-casserole for these cooling days of Autumn …